We were planning a trip to London and scouting for good, but reasonably priced airlines via Sky Scanner. Turkish Air came up as an option and when my husband researched on it, he found out that the airline provided an optional city tour to Turkey. I was psyched! I’ve wanted to visit Istanbul for a while now (Hagia Sophia!) so I really wanted to see how we could make it happen. We only had an 8-day leave from work so we had to squeeze our schedules to fit everything in. Alan found a connecting flight to London that had an 11- hour gap, which was perfect for the half-day free city tour.
Once we had boarded the plane, I immediately checked out its entertainment facility. It was a 12-hour trip from Manila to Istanbul so having a good selection of films is a must. Thank goodness Turkish Air delivered with individual touch screens per seat and a remote/game controller. The movies and Tv content were current, making it possible for me to watch many new releases that I had missed in the cinema (Incidentally, check out Fresh Off the Boat–funee!). Each economy class passenger was given a care pouch with slippers, toothpaste, toothbrush, socks, eye masks and lip balm. Kids have their own activity magazine and their very own care kit as well. At the start of the trip, they give each passenger a sweet treat (Turkish Delight), which is pretty addicting (bought a couple of boxes)!
We arrived in Istanbul at 5 am, but the counter for the city tour signup opened at 8 am so we had to find somewhere to sit in. Luckily, the shops in their airport opened early. We ate some bread and had coffee in a local bread shop. Then, we walked around to see the products of Istanbul.
When the counter opened, they informed us that we would be having a boat tour of the Bosporus River, Golden Horn and Black Sea. But before that, we were treated to a free (yes, Free!) Mediterranean breakfast, which consisted of bread, three kinds of cheeses, a cold cut and Turkish tea. Then, the bus took us to the dock. The guide explained to us that Turkey has an Asian side and a European side divided by the seas. He also pointed to us the many beautiful structures in Istanbul, such as the Blue Mosque and the Sultanahmet. It was a beautiful sampler of the country. After the mini cruise, we got back to the restaurant for free (yes, it’s free again) lunch consisting of grilled chicken (a little reminiscent of our own inasal) served with rice and very tasty chicken soup. The guide told us that since our flight was at 6 pm, we couldn’t join the group for their walking trip to the different mosques. Not wanting to miss out, Alan asked how to get back to the airport via commute. Since it was easy and convenient, Alan said we could visit the Hagia Sophia on our own. While walking to the mosque, we passed by the Arasta Bazaar which is a definite must-visit place for anyone who wants to get authentic Turkish products. How I wish I could bring home the woven rugs and beautiful covers that I saw, but I didn’t want to burden Alan so I contented myself with a box of Turkish Delight, Turkish coffee and small souvenirs.
Finally, we made it to the Hagia Sophia, and what luck! We spotted the tour group so we got spared paying for the entrance fee. Going there was really an experience because you could see there the merging of Islam and Christian art– fascinating!
All in all, our only expenses consisted of getting a Turkish visa online, the bread we bought and shopping.
So for the free trip alone, I give Turkish airline high marks for promoting its country to first timers such as myself. Points for improvement: Food during the flight could still be better (on the bland side) and toilets could be cleaner. But overall, thumbs up to Turkish Air!